David E. Nelson graduated from Montana State University, Billings, and went on to become the director of the Yellowstone Arts Center. He was a founder and first chairman of the Montana Art Galleries Directors Association. In 1971 he was named director of the Montana Arts Council, a post he held for twenty-one years, establishing himself as a leader at both the state and national levels. In recognition of his long and dedicated service, the New England Foundation for the Arts awarded him the prestigious Gary Young Award in 1992.
He was a 1979 fellowship recipient from the National Endowment for the Arts to study interactive media and the arts. He chaired the Federation of Rocky Mountain States Arts & Humanities Committee, and was state advisor for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A founder and past chair (82-83) of the Western States Arts Federation, Mr. Nelson was instrumental in establishing the first multi-state arts computer network.
In 1992 he received a Kumamoto, Japan, Good Will Award, and in February, 1999, the Governor's Arts award from Montana's Governor Marc Racicot, and a Missoula Cultural Council award for his contributions to community cultural welfare. Later in 1999 he was nominated by the Missoulian (December 24) as one of Montana's leading arts administrators of the 20th century.